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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                          87
his own people. His own experience as a fighter-pilot had
inured him to danger. When he rushed into the fray he
never thought of death and even felt a joyous thrill. But
for a man to do a thing like that, all alone in the
"When did you find him?"
"When?" The old man moved his lips and took another
cigarette from the open case. "Now, when was it? Why,
of course! It was just a week ago."
Degtyarenko ran over the dates in his mind and
calculated that Alexei Meresyev had crawled eighteen
days. For a wounded man to crawl all that time, and
without food—it seemed incredible.
"Well, Grandpa, thank you very much!" the airman
tightly embraced the old man and pressed him to his
breast. "Thank you, brother!"
"Don't mention it. There's nothing to thank me for.
'Thank you,' he says! What am I? A stranger, a foreigner,
or what?" And then he angrily shouted at his daughter-
in-law who was standing in bitter reflection with her
cheek resting on her hand. ... "Pick those provisions off
the floor! Fancy throwing such precious stuff about! . ..
Thanks', he says!"
Meanwhile, Lenochka had finished preparing Meresyev
for his journey.
"It's all right, it's all right, Comrade Senior
Lieutenant," she twittered, her words dropping fast like
peas from a bag. "Now, in Moscow, they'll put you on
your feet in a trice. Moscow is a big city, isn't it, now?
They heal worse cases than yours!"
From her exaggerated animation and the way she kept
on repeating that Meresyev would be put on his feet in
a trice, Degtyarenko guessed that her examination had
shown that the case was serious and that his friend was
in a bad way. "Chattering like a magpie", he growled to
himself, scowling at the "sister of medical science".
Suddenly he remembered that nobody in the wing took
this girl seriously, and that everybody said in jest that all
she could cure anybody of was love—and that consoled
Degtyarenko somewhat.
Wrapped in the blankets, from which the head alone
was visible, Alexei reminded Degtyarenko of the mummy